60 The Poor And The Needy Seeking Water
A Sermon Preached By William Gadsby In Gower Street Chapel, London, On Lord’s Day Morning, Aug. 3rd, 1823.
“When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.”—Isaiah 41:17
A person who is a stranger to his own depravity and does not know his own heart, wonders, when he reads of Israel of old, to find that, after the Lord had done such great things for them, they should so revolt as to make a calf of gold, worship it, sacrifice thereunto, and say, “These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” (Exod. 32:8.) But one who is acquainted with his own depravity and knows and feels the plague of his own heart wonders at nothing, except it is that mankind at large do not carry things to a greater pitch than they do and that this world is not a very Bedlam. And indeed, if God did not lay a restraint upon mankind, this world would be as bad as hell itself.
In speaking upon the passage I have taken as a text, I will, as God shall enable me,
I. Describe the poor and needy.
II. Their seeking water, their not finding it, and the effect it has upon them.
III. The Lord’s promise, to hear them and not forsake them.
I. We are to describe a poor and needy man. If we saw a man destitute of food and raiment, house, home, and credit, and so in debt as to be forced to hide himself, knowing that a warrant was out to arrest him, we should say he was indeed a poor wretch. Well, what such a man would be temporally, God’s people are spiritually. A quickened sinner feels, in some measure, the weight of his sins and the wrath of God due to him on their account; yet his experience is not so keen as is the experience of one who has known pardon and is now brought to mourn the absence of God. Satan suggests that he has committed the unpardonable sin, and this aggravates his misery; but the Lord has left on record a very encouraging word to such: “Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God. I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” The soul says, “Lord, I am a worm, and so weak I am afraid.” “Well,” the Lord adds, “Fear not, thon worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel. I will help thee, saith the Lord, and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel. Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument, having teeth, and thou shalt thresh the mountains and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff.” You may wish to know what this instrument is. It is faith; and with it the worm, who thought he should be crushed to atoms, is enabled to beat down unbelief, devils, hell, and sin.
But to speak more particularly of the soul that is under conviction of sin. Much is said in our day about treason against the king; and very justly. Treason is a great crime; but a soul which the Holy Ghost has taken in hand is convicted of treason and of many other crimes against the King of kings; arid he needs the application of pardon to his heart; for Jehovah pardons sinners. Our king can grant a pardon by a single stroke of his pen. It costs him nothing; it is called an act of grace. But, before the King of kings could pardon a sinner, he must die for him. Justice must be satisfied and honoured; wherefore the King, to pardon the traitor, poured out his heart’s blood.
It is common for persons under conviction of sin not to know what is the matter with them. I knew a youth who told his feelings to a medical man, and he prescribed for him; but he found it of no use. He required a better Physician to heal his wound. If such a one talks to nominal professors, they think he is going mad. I knew a young woman who was under convictions of sin, and her mother (a professing woman) put her into a madhouse, and was caressed by her connections for so doing. Some time afterwards, she went to see her, when the daughter told her how graciously the Lord had appeared for her, and visited her soul with his love, and filled her with happy enjoyment. When her mother returned home, she told her connections that, alas! her daughter was quite as bad, only the disorder had taken a turn. This was all she knew about it. But blessed be God for such turns. I believe there are more of God’s elect in St. Luke’s and other lunatic asylums than in all the noblemen’s families in this kingdom; for I know that when a soul convicted of sin is observed by the ungodly, they often call it melancholy, and think the madhouse the fittest place for him. Some will say such a one is nervous, and such a one is a poor nervous creature; but I believe all God’s people are so, more or less, that conviction often shakes every nerve, and is sometimes so powerful as to impair the reason.
There was a member of our church who, when under conviction, could not bear to hear the tolling of a bell, for he thought it said, “Damn him! Damn him! Damn him!” and that all nature seemed to curse him; and he said, as David said of Shimei, “Let him curse, for the Lord hath bidden him.” This is a trying experience. Such a man reads his Bible, weeps, mourns, and is disconsolate. In the hours of common repose he cannot rest, but perhaps often has to rise and go to prayer while his partner is asleep. She will say to her neighbours, “I cannot think what is come to my John. He goes moping about, and seems not fit for his employment; and when he comes home he does not joke nor tell me any curious tales to cheer me up, as he used to do.” And so, if conviction take hold of a wife, “O,” says the husband, “she is not fit to manage for the family, nor to assist in the business. If I had known this before, I would not have married her.” And if the person is in the single state, it is in a manner the same. He can neither satisfy himself nor those about him.
A man who is poor literally might be relieved with a little, for at most we want but little here; but not so the poor in my text. Nothing will satisfy him but everlasting life, and God says, by the apostle Paul, “My God shall supply all your need, according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
II. This poor man is said to seek water, &c. He has a burning fever in his heart, and desires that it may be satiated. If he is in a country where the gospel is preached, he will be found under the Word, perhaps running from one place to another; but can get nothing. A few duties will not satisfy his conscience, like that of a mere professor. He fears he is mocking God. Some advise him to frequent places of amusement, and play at cards, it may be; others to be up and doing, and to double his diligence, and to get holiness; and others to receive the sacrament, &c. So he goes, perhaps, to the parish church and receives it; but now he feels worse than before, fearing he has taken it unworthily, and has eaten and drunk damnation to himself, and thinks he is not a whit behind Judas, who received the devil in the sop. Glad would he be to sink into nonentity and remain in non-existence, or at last to be damned only with the common sinner; but he fears his punishment will be greater than any one’s, as he feels he is an uncommon sinner. Jeremiah thus speaks of the distress of his soul: “He has brought me into darkness, and not into light. Surely against me is he turned. He turneth his hand against me all the day. My flesh and my skin hath he made old. He hath broken my bones; he hath set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old; he hath made my chain heavy. Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer. He hath also broken my teeth with gravel stones; he hath covered me with ashes.” Nor did he rise till he saw that his affliction was for his good, and looked upon his Savior’s sufferings: “Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled within me.”
The great bulk of professors are utter strangers to these things. Our Lord thus describes the two classes, the self-righteous Pharisee and the convicted sinner: “Two men went up in the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself: God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or oven as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.” Here you see he tells God how good he is, and even thanks God he is so. But “the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me, a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
When you go from the house of God and converse together, take care to let it be on the things which are of the greatest importance; for the poor and needy, who cannot speak of his feelings to God’s people, yet will listen to their talk to find if their path is like his; but if you talk only of this world, you will greatly distress him. I knew a man who, on one Lord’s day, was, in the course of providence, led to a distant place, where he went with his relations to their chapel. When service was over, he was desirous of conversing with some of the hearers, and as he saw several parties talking together, he listened; but could hear no talk but of war and trade. He then inquired of them if they could direct him to any place where the gospel was preached. “O yes,” said they, “here,” pointing to their chapel. “O no,” said he, “that it is not; at least if it is, it has had no good effect upon you, for I have not heard one word from any of you about the gospel, or anything except war and trade.” Beware, brethren, that you do not bring a similar reproach upon yourselves, for you do not know how you may wound the feelings of the poor and needy.
Again. If this poor soul seeks for comfort amongst God’s own people, why, in some frames of mind, if they saw him coming in at the front door, they would rather run out at the back than stay to speak with him, for they have so much trouble going on within that they are unwilling to be burdened by him, forgetting that souls in trouble are often the means of comforting each other.
The effect of the poor soul’s not finding the water he is seeking, is said to be that his tongue faileth for thirst. Job desired time to swallow down his spittle, being pressed, and pursued, and driven, as it were, to his wits’ end. I should not be surprised if there is one here to-day, come to seek the Lord, determined, if the Lord does not show him mercy, to come no more, nor read the Bible any more, nor pray any more; but to go and destroy himself. You will, perhaps, say such a one is a lunatic; and I will tell you that such a lunatic you may be if ever God brings you into very close quarters. “I went,” says a poor soul, perhaps, “the other day to our minister and told him my pitiful condition. ‘ Ah!’ said he. ‘ You have committed some great sin; you must remove the cause, and the effect will cease; you must watch and strive, and repent!’ ‘True,’ said I, ‘I have committed many great sins, by which I have brought fresh guilt upon my conscience; and not only so, but I sin with every breath I draw; and as to the cause you bid me remove, it is in my breast, and I cannot remove it.’“ But the poor parson, who is in reality much more poor than the poor soul himself, knows nothing about it. He is like Jonathan’s lad, entirely out of the secret. But we will now leave such legal parsons and their legal preaching, and speak,
III. Of the Lord’s promise to the poor and needy, to hear them and not forsake them. He hears them with attention, compassion, and delight: “The Lord hearkened and heard; and a book of remembrance was written before him, for those that feared the Lord and that thought upon his name;” “I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people, and have heard their groanings, by reason of their taskmasters, and come down to deliver them.” God is pleased to see the soul seeking him, because it is the work of his own blessed Spirit, who has brought him to feel his wretched condition; and he has promised that “whosoever calleth on the name of the Lord shall be delivered.” “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shall glorify me.” If a man literally poor came to our door for relief, we might, for decency’s sake, stay and hear his tale, but perhaps pay but little attention to it, and at last say, “We can do nothing for you.” But God could as soon cease to be God as to deny mercy to his redeemed, the poor and needy: “I said not to the seed of Jacob, Seek ye my face in vain.”
Again. In one place we read of the heavens dropping down and of the mountains flowing down at the presence of the Lord. The, Holy Ghost descends, and discovers to the soul how Christ became his ransom, and, by his sufferings and death, payed his infinite debt and reconciled him to God. But though his pardon is thus proclaimed, it is the soul’s union to Jesus that brings him to heaven. Being so related, as being a joint heir with him, he has a right and title to heaven. Christ is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh: “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory.” Such a soul now enjoys a treasure not to be pent up; and though the Lord may exercise him in this world, for the trial of his faith, it is that he may know more of his faithfulness and goodness.
In conclusion, I would ask you if you know these things for yourselves; for they are personal matters, which we must know for ourselves, if ever we are saved. That those who do may enjoy the happiness of them, more and more, and that those who do not may be brought to do so in God’s time, is my desire and prayer.
William Gadsby (1773-1844) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher, writer and philanthropist. John Hazelton wrote of him—
“[Gadsby’s] labours extended to well-nigh every part of the country, and who by his sermons, hymns, and other writings, exerted a wide spiritual influence, and his interest in the poor and needy in Lancashire and elsewhere rendered his public advocacy of their cause of great value. In him we have a man of eminent public spirit, as well as of originality and spiritual force…The first time he preached was in 1798, in an upper room in a yard at Bedworth, from the words, "Unto you therefore which believe, He is precious." His Hymn Book, now so widely known, was first published in 1814, his desire being "to have a selection of hymns free from Arminianism and sound in the faith, that the Church might be edified and God glorified.” He removed to Manchester in 1805, and while over the Church there he travelled over 60,000 miles and preached nearly 12,000 sermons.”